Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

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Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:31 am

Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Hickersonia » Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:41 am

tomamundsen wrote:The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here?

I think this is the million-dollar-question.

That said, I can directly observe the benefits of my practice regardless of whether another person, Holy or otherwise, chooses to think it is likely or possible.

I'm sure he didn't necessarily mean to offend anyone in saying what he did. :-/
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:59 am

tomamundsen wrote:Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


That's interesting. The message I got from Rinpoche as a student at a center under his auspices, was that he took us very seriously as practitioners. I haven't heard this statement, but perhaps he was referring to the vast majority of people here who, indeed, don't have the circumstances to support regularly receiving teachings and practicing.

Two hours a day is great! You know, even when I was in three year retreat practicing constantly, it never seemed like enough... if I listened to the demon in my mind that says "I can't do it." I'm the lowest capacity person, but I'm convinced enlightenment if inevitable if I practice the Vajrayana with sincerity and keep the best samaya I can. Maybe not in this life--I don't know--but it will happen. I need to manage my time well, and remember my priority is Dharma. Anything we do can be turned into Dharma practice.

That being said, I found the immersion environment in three year group retreat really helped me understand the Dharma of my lineage much better, so that I can't be lead astray--for example--by misleading posts on internet forums the way I sometimes used to be. I know what I need to do in my practice to take it to the next level, and perhaps more important, what not to bother with. Have you considered it Tom?
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:07 am

Yudron wrote:Have you considered it Tom?


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Have I considered what?
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:41 am

tomamundsen wrote:
Yudron wrote:Have you considered it Tom?


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Have I considered what?


Formal three year retreat under the supervision of a meditation master.

I ask because you look young in your picture, and it's great to do it when you are young. And also, it seems like you are a very serious practitioner, and implicit in your question is "how can we take this to the next level?"

Our retreat center was under Dungse Rinpoche's guidance, but there are also several other good centers in the U.S. and Europe.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby ngodrup » Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:59 am

tomamundsen wrote:
Yudron wrote:Have you considered it Tom?


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Have I considered what?


If Yudron doesn't mind, I'll put the words in her mouth.

Have you considered (3 year retreat), Tom?

I think there's no question. Major lineage holders have ordained Western Lamas-- Vajra Masters.
I have heard Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche in person imply what you say-- that we lack knowledge,
understanding, wisdom, compassion and time. Well, when he said these things, he was teaching Threkchod
to Westerners! If it's hopeless, why would he bother? Clearly, he was saying this to serve what Sogyal
Rinpoche calls the function of a Lama-- to point out our faults. H. H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was well known
for "giving scoldings." Yet on another occasion, I heard him answer the question "What is the difference between
a Tibetan ad Western Lama?" The answer is well known in Dharma circles: "Everyone knows a Tibetan has a
moon-like face, a Western Lama has a face like the Rocky Mountains." Implication? No difference, except externals.
If you read Tibetan, you'll notice there's more content in his English translation of Cascading Waterfall of Nectar.
So again, he's giving more to Westerners! When you read his words, there's no doubt he thinks we can even do Thogal.
And he's not the only one.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Tom » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:07 am

tomamundsen wrote:Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Maybe, the Indian Masters initially said the same thing about the Tibetans.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby viniketa » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:10 am

tomamundsen wrote: Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Practice is more than just sitting... Are you adding-in the efforts you make in daily life at mindfulness, following precepts, etc.?

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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:24 am

Yudron wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:
Yudron wrote:Have you considered it Tom?


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Have I considered what?


Formal three year retreat under the supervision of a meditation master.

I ask because you look young in your picture, and it's great to do it when you are young. And also, it seems like you are a very serious practitioner, and implicit in your question is "how can we take this to the next level?"

Our retreat center was under Dungse Rinpoche's guidance, but there are also several other good centers in the U.S. and Europe.

Hi Yudron,

Thanks for the clarification. Yes, I definitely want to do a 3-year retreat! Hopefully I can do a few in my lifetime. At the moment, I have an obstacle - need to pay off student loans. I am 27 now, but hope to do a retreat in my early to mid-30s. My lama has already given our beginner's group teachings on how to conduct a solo retreat and emphasized how indispensable that opportunity is. I should add some aspirational prayer to my dedication of merit...

I am in a vague way asking "how can we take this to the next level" but I am more focused on every-day life. Because the majority of my life will not be in retreat. Also, because I think it's important for Westerners to be serious and achieve results so that other Westerners can have confidence that it's possible to "do it" as a Western layperson. It's easy for us to believe that Tibetans are realized, even laypersons. But how much more time than us do they really have. Are Tibetan ngakpas practicing like 12 hours a day?

There was once a time when I lived in a temple in Japan and practiced four hours a day. I can sympathize with the other person who was saying that "it's never enough." Even four hours a day seemed like it wasn't enough when you consider that means 20 hours not practicing. But I think that 4 hours a day as a layperson might be around the maximum realistically possible. I hope that after I am done with my part-time schooling that I can come closer to that mark.
Last edited by tomamundsen on Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:34 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:26 am

ngodrup wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:
Yudron wrote:Have you considered it Tom?


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Have I considered what?


If Yudron doesn't mind, I'll put the words in her mouth.

Have you considered (3 year retreat), Tom?

I think there's no question. Major lineage holders have ordained Western Lamas-- Vajra Masters.
I have heard Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche in person imply what you say-- that we lack knowledge,
understanding, wisdom, compassion and time. Well, when he said these things, he was teaching Threkchod
to Westerners! If it's hopeless, why would he bother? Clearly, he was saying this to serve what Sogyal
Rinpoche calls the function of a Lama-- to point out our faults. H. H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was well known
for "giving scoldings." Yet on another occasion, I heard him answer the question "What is the difference between
a Tibetan ad Western Lama?" The answer is well known in Dharma circles: "Everyone knows a Tibetan has a
moon-like face, a Western Lama has a face like the Rocky Mountains." Implication? No difference, except externals.
If you read Tibetan, you'll notice there's more content in his English translation of Cascading Waterfall of Nectar.
So again, he's giving more to Westerners! When you read his words, there's no doubt he thinks we can even do Thogal.
And he's not the only one.

Thank you, it's always nice to hear stories from people who have met such great figures. You must have some merit piled up to have met His Holiness!
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:26 am

viniketa wrote:
tomamundsen wrote: Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Practice is more than just sitting... Are you adding-in the efforts you make in daily life at mindfulness, following precepts, etc.?

:namaste:

No, I'm just focusing on formal practice here. Of course I strive to practice Dharma 24/7.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:27 am

Tom wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Maybe, the Indian Masters initially said the same thing about the Tibetans.

Wouldn't surprise me. It would be cool if someone found citations for this. :thinking:
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:36 am

Tom,
I'm so happy to hear that you have aspirations for long term retreat in your thirties. I am praying that any obstacles will be removed for you.

:thumbsup:
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby deepbluehum » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:46 am

tomamundsen wrote:Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Indians made those warmongering demon spawn into dharma masters. If the Tibetans don't have the skills to do the same for us busy stupid Westerners, then maybe dharma is finished. But don't worry. Some Tibetans are great masters and many Westerners will carry the torch of the teachings into the very distant future.

You should have a realistic view of what Tibetan masters did to become masters. Usually, it meant 20 years of full-time study and a minimum of three years in solitary retreat in a mountain hermitage. But for the really great masters, like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, it was between 9 and 20 years in retreat. For those masters who attained Rainbow Body, it's more like the whole life.

In the days of the Indian masters, there was usually about 10 years spent in a Buddhism college, and then they went to follow a siddha guru in the 10 to 12 year range. So yes, it is completely unrealistic to expect to become a dharma master with 2 hours a day. But even if you only keep two bodhichittas in your heart, you are a dharma practitioner. Also keep in mind, that if you can afford 2 hours a day, you can probably afford 4, if not 6. Six hours per day of serious dharma practice over six to twelve years is no small thing.

If during your pursuits you are able to receive the transmission of Nyingthig and can do the special ngondro and gain even a small bit of experience with Thogal, then you will definitely be liberated in the bardo. Many of the 84 Mahasiddhas kept their day jobs. It is no exaggeration that daily life is the really difficult and highest forum to practice dharma. Daily life is where the game counts, and you win or lose. Keep samaya and you will continue to receive faster and faster methods.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:56 am

ngodrup wrote:H. H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was well known
for "giving scoldings." Yet on another occasion, I heard him answer the question "What is the difference between
a Tibetan ad Western Lama?" The answer is well known in Dharma circles: "Everyone knows a Tibetan has a
moon-like face, a Western Lama has a face like the Rocky Mountains." Implication? No difference, except externals.
If you read Tibetan, you'll notice there's more content in his English translation of Cascading Waterfall of Nectar.


I think we know each other, Ngodrup.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Oct 17, 2012 5:38 am

deepbluehum wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:Hi,

I'd like to discuss the topic of whether Westerners can actually be true Dharma practitioners. I have heard that His Holiness Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that Westerners don't have the knowledge or time to practice Dharma; the best we can hope for is to make connections with lamas and profound teachings.

The first question of semantics is obviously what constitutes a true Dharma practitioner in the sense that His Holiness is talking about here? For example, how many hours a day do Tibetans practice? How much textual studying must be done? Etc. Is it only a fantasy to think that 2 hours of practice every day makes me a Dharma practitioner?


Indians made those warmongering demon spawn into dharma masters. If the Tibetans don't have the skills to do the same for us busy stupid Westerners, then maybe dharma is finished. But don't worry. Some Tibetans are great masters and many Westerners will carry the torch of the teachings into the very distant future.

You should have a realistic view of what Tibetan masters did to become masters. Usually, it meant 20 years of full-time study and a minimum of three years in solitary retreat in a mountain hermitage. But for the really great masters, like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, it was between 9 and 20 years in retreat. For those masters who attained Rainbow Body, it's more like the whole life.

In the days of the Indian masters, there was usually about 10 years spent in a Buddhism college, and then they went to follow a siddha guru in the 10 to 12 year range. So yes, it is completely unrealistic to expect to become a dharma master with 2 hours a day. But even if you only keep two bodhichittas in your heart, you are a dharma practitioner. Also keep in mind, that if you can afford 2 hours a day, you can probably afford 4, if not 6. Six hours per day of serious dharma practice over six to twelve years is no small thing.

If during your pursuits you are able to receive the transmission of Nyingthig and can do the special ngondro and gain even a small bit of experience with Thogal, then you will definitely be liberated in the bardo. Many of the 84 Mahasiddhas kept their day jobs. It is no exaggeration that daily life is the really difficult and highest forum to practice dharma. Daily life is where the game counts, and you win or lose. Keep samaya and you will continue to receive faster and faster methods.

Thank you, DBH. This was simultaneously a reality check, encouragement, and motivation! Yea, I know I could practice more if I just gave other things up. Luckily school is naturally ending in two months, and that will free up some time. As for my other samsaric activities... it will just take time to remove them one-by-one.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Oct 17, 2012 5:46 am

Good posting.
I agree with Deep Blue Hum. At first many of the Indian gurus were wary of the Tibetans and questioned whether they had the capacity for practice.
In the end, Tibetans became the preservers of the dharma when it began to disappear from the land of Bharat, modern-day India.

I think Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is correct to a certain degree- especially in the context of time.With our computers, I-phones and short attention spans, it is much more difficult to direct the mind to the practice of dharma. The Tibetans had the gift of a very simple and stark environment, with few distractions. The entire country eventually became saturated with dharma practice, and the culture was developed on the basis of Buddhism.

What are the reasons for thinking Westerners are capable, then? We have the Buddha-nature within us, along with a precious human rebirth and we have met the Holy Dharma. There are still a few qualified, realized teachers around. And from the Tantric point-of-view, we have the physical constituents necessary in our physical form to practice the transformative teachings.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby Konchog1 » Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:05 am

Thing is, thanks to Padmasambhava, Trisong, and so forth, Buddhism became the main religion/worldview in Tibet. Albeit trimmed with Tibetan characteristics.

So for Tibetans, it's a numbers game. Odds are, masters will appear every once in a while.

For Westerners, Buddhism will always be a minority religion unless some president/prime minister becomes Buddhist and a Padmasambhava teaches it to the people of that country.

So, we have to bring our A game. Quality over quantity.
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Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby ngodrup » Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:41 am

JKhedrup wrote:Good posting.
I agree with Deep Blue Hum. At first many of the Indian gurus were wary of the Tibetans and questioned whether they had the capacity for practice.
In the end, Tibetans became the preservers of the dharma when it began to disappear from the land of Bharat, modern-day India.

I think Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is correct to a certain degree- especially in the context of time.With our computers, I-phones and short attention spans, it is much more difficult to direct the mind to the practice of dharma. The Tibetans had the gift of a very simple and stark environment, with few distractions. The entire country eventually became saturated with dharma practice, and the culture was developed on the basis of Buddhism.

What are the reasons for thinking Westerners are capable, then? We have the Buddha-nature within us, along with a precious human rebirth and we have met the Holy Dharma. There are still a few qualified, realized teachers around. And from the Tantric point-of-view, we have the physical constituents necessary in our physical form to practice the transformative teachings.


Excellent post.
And, some of those great teachers, are passing on practices especially aimed at dark times like this with so many superficial distractions.
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Re: Can Westerners REALLY be Dharma practitioners?

Postby ngodrup » Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:43 am

Yudron wrote:
ngodrup wrote:H. H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was well known
for "giving scoldings." Yet on another occasion, I heard him answer the question "What is the difference between
a Tibetan ad Western Lama?" The answer is well known in Dharma circles: "Everyone knows a Tibetan has a
moon-like face, a Western Lama has a face like the Rocky Mountains." Implication? No difference, except externals.
If you read Tibetan, you'll notice there's more content in his English translation of Cascading Waterfall of Nectar.


I think we know each other, Ngodrup.


Sh. It's a secret. ;)
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